During lockdown, Eoin Morgan started watching last year’s World Cup final on loop. He hadn’t actually seen the whole match back until recently, when he got a copy on DVD, since then he’s been through it three times, trying to make sense of what happened and why.
“It’s an incredible day just to sit back and watch,” Morgan says, on a Zoom call to mark the anniversary on Tuesday. “The whole day is still tense every time I watch it. Watching it back, all the ebbs and flows of the game, feels like a privilege.”
In the weeks immediately after the final Morgan spoke to Kane Williamson, New Zealand’s captain, “two or three” times, too, “just to talk to him about the game, try to understand it more, the context of it”.
Watching it now, there are moments when Morgan’s mind tricks him into thinking England are going to lose. One in particular: “Jimmy Neesham’s bowling to Ben Stokes, he bowls a slower ball, and Ben hits it down to long on and I remember the ball being in the air and you can see the trajectory of the ball and you full well know when you hit it up the hill you have to absolutely smoke it to hit it for six. And it’s gone high and not quite as long as he’d liked and for a minute I just thought: ‘That’s it, it’s over, Ben’s out, we still need 15 an over’ – that’s when I thought for a split second we were dead and buried.”
It was a sliding doors moment. Morgan wonders whether he would still be England captain now if Trent Boult had not stood on the boundary when catching that ball, meaning six rather than out. “That’s a good question and one I don’t have the answer to. Whether we won or lost wasn’t part of my decision to stay on, but it obviously would have been part of Ed Smith’s, Ashley Giles’s and Tom Harrison’s.”
But he likes to think the four years before the tournament would count for something in their thinking too, that the transformation he helped bring about in England’s white-ball cricket was worth as much as the end result.
“The way we played in the final epitomised how we felt over those four years,” Morgan says. He was especially proud of the way they celebrated, says they did it in the right way. “We know what it’s like to be beaten in tight games, what it’s like to lose trophies, big matches and I think the humility both sides showed on that day was extremely encouraging.”
He has a lot of respect for Williamson, “an unbelievable guy, great human, one of the best players of our generation”, and made a point of going into New Zealand’s dressing room to have a beer with him after the match.
If all this is still large in Morgan’s mind, it may be because he and the players haven’t really been able to get any closure on it by having a proper celebration. “One thing we’ve found unbelievably challenging is that we haven’t been able to get the whole group of players together since the day after the final. It’s been such a challenge with guys playing different leagues, playing county, playing international, so one of the aims is to do it sooner rather than later, have a dinner, or a bit of party, where we can get friends and family and players and staff all together. It’s on the agenda. And given any excuse I love to celebrate, it’s an important thing to do.”
They’re running short of time. Morgan’s mind is turning to the T20 World Cup, which is scheduled to start in Australia this October. “There hasn’t been a team who have held T20 and 50-over World Cups at the same time, so that would be a nice challenge.”
This being cricket, the administrators had, confusingly, already scheduled another T20 World Cup in India 12 months later, and England are planning for both. “Realistically, probably out of the next two World Cups winning just one of them would be unbelievable.” Morgan argues that winning both “would be a bigger achievement than winning the 50-over World Cup”.
Why? “Just because both of them are away from home and you would favour Australia in Australia and India in India, so you’d have to win both of them to top the 50-overs win.”
Which is true, in a way, but also sounds like the talk of a man, and a captain, who is trying to motivate himself and his players for another attempt at some fresh, far-off peak. In terms of impact, winning the World T20 would not come close to what they achieved last summer, and he knows it. He has seen for himself “the effect it had on everybody around the country, how cricket was at the forefront of everybody’s thinking”.
The final, Morgan says “was actually bigger than cricket”, because it became “one of the highlights of – one of the greatest sporting days – in British history”. He still can’t quite seem to believe he was there in the middle of it all. It is, he says, “something all of us will have to the day we die”.